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Pull Over And Fill Your Tank With Sunshine

It is coming to Africa. The day is near when filling stations will be full of chargers instead of pumps, where you can fill up with solar power instead of fuel.

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It is 117 years since the first motor car came to Johannesburg, South Africa. According to historian Anna Smith’s book Johannesburg Firsts it was a Benz Voiturette that was driven around before a large crowd at the Wanderers track in Johannesburg. It was described as the “rage and topic of all Europe” and a noiseless carriage. Voiturette is the French word for a small car, and this first vehicle to arrive in Johannesburg struggled to make walking pace with its wheezing engine.

Now, years later, the truly ‘noiseless’ carriages are on their way to South Africa. They will come in the shape of an electric car called LEAF, which is an acronym for Leading, Environmentally-friendly, Affordable, Family car. However, one of the concerns about electric cars is that, because they tend to be so noiseless, unwary pedestrians do not hear them coming when crossing roads.

Like the wheezing Voiturette, this car is also a “rage and topic” in other parts of the world. It came onto the market in Japan and the United States in 2010 and the following year in Canada and Europe, where it has won the Car of the Year award. In February its global sales topped 50,000.

The LEAF is made by Nissan and will start selling in South Africa later this year. It is a fully electric five-door hatchback with a battery range said to be 175km. Production has begun in North America and Europe, after the car was initially only produced in Japan, and there are two more models in the pipeline.

Nissan says the improvements in the new models include an extended driving range, greater recyclability, more interior space, better charging performance, more equipment and, of course, a greater choice. Subtle styling changes to the nose of the car have improved its already impressive aerodynamic efficiency.

Government, business and conservationists are hopeful that it will start a trend away from South Africa’s carbon-belching road traffic towards a greener system. It is aimed also at reducing the country’s heavy reliance on imported and ever-more expensive oil.

If it takes off, the car could also see the construction of intermittent ‘filling stations’ with solar-power backup along the highways where drivers could recharge their cars. The idea is to make the least possible use of the coal-fired power grid, thereby further reducing reliance on climate-changing energy.

Nissan South Africa is working closely with the government to prepare the infrastructure, most notably the recharging network. To initiate the joint project, the company has given the Department of Environmental Affairs four of the cars to test over three years.

The use of solar power to recharge the cars is part of the test. At the project’s launch in February, the department’s minister, Edna Molewa, said a 15 kilowatt solar tracking device has been installed at Environmental Affairs’ new green building, which is still under construction. She said the installation would produce enough electricity to charge the cars and to feed excess electricity into the power grid as a way of offsetting the carbon footprint of the building’s construction.

“Any carbon footprint of the vehicle is thus neutralized through the use of free solar energy generated by the tracker. Where charging is required overnight this is offset by the excess energy that the trackers produce during the day. The amount of electricity utilized for charging and running of the vehicle is carefully monitored and logged and is offset against the amount of electricity generated by the solar tracker.”

“It is envisaged that in future, these tracking devices will be installed on the major commuter routes for the direct charging of vehicles in real time. An e-transport location analysis will be conducted in partnership with other government agencies to inform the roll-out of the solar e-cars installation package at key transportation and commuter hubs countrywide, such as key government precincts, Gautrain stations, O.R. Tambo International Airport, key commercial centers and business districts,” she says Molewa.

The move towards greener vehicles is seen also to present opportunities for making the automotive and related industries greener. South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry has already gazetted the Electric Vehicle Industry Strategy, which is meant to guide investment into car manufacturing.

Other partners in the project are the Departments of Transport, Energy, and Science and Technology, South African Revenue Services, Eskom (the electricity supply commission), municipalities and other car manufacturers and suppliers.

Molewa said in her speech at the launch of the LEAF project that transition in the design and production of alternative propulsion systems should be aimed at maintaining and increasing South Africa’s global market share in the automotive sector, while meeting its commitment to decrease its carbon footprint.

South Africa is listed as the 18th largest vehicle manufacturer in the world, though in Africa it is by far the biggest, accounting for 80% of the continent’s output. The industry contributes around 6% to the gross domestic product and employs more than 230,000 people in manufacturing, distribution and sales.

For Molewa, the first step towards capturing part of the green-car market is for South Africa to develop and grow the market domestically. Hopes are pinned on such development to provide jobs. Molewa even speaks of the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable economy as a likely new engine of development.

But with the transportation sector said to be globally responsible for 30% of carbon emissions, and with the number of vehicles on the world’s roads edging towards one billion, a prime objective remains to reduce the amount of climate-changing gas coming from exhaust pipes. The LEAF project is a part of this objective.

Technology

TikTok Launches $200 Million Fund To Finance Up-And-Coming Stars

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TikTok will begin financing emerging creators on its short-form video platform with a $200 million fund that it announced today, an unusual move by a social media company and one that comes after several weeks of concerns about TikTok’s future.

The company, which is owned by China-based ByteDance, didn’t provide many specific details about how it will give out that money or who may qualify for it. It may be directed toward users from minority groups—with the press release about the fund’s debut singling out creators like Boman Martinez-Reid, a LGBTQ comedian who has signed with CAA, and Tabitha Brown, who’s become famous for her videos about family life and veganism.

TikTok is in a multi-front battle right now. The Trump Administration is considering banning the app over concerns it may share data with the Chinese government, and the users who flocked to TikTok over the past year have been exploring other platforms for their content. In the past few weeks, TikTokers have posted videos urging their fans to also follower them on apps like Instagram, while others have turned to rival music-and-video apps such as Dubsmash and Byte to produce work.

The best way to keep them on TikTok is to offer a clear path toward earning money. Instagram and other social platforms have struggled to do that, and YouTube’s ad-sharing scheme—based on the views generated by someone’s videos—remains the quickest and simplest monetization for influencers. Companies such as Chipotle and E.L.F. cosmetics are already paying for sponsored content on TikTok, where influencers post videos advertising these companies for a fee, as much as six figures now for the top stars. But those deals are typically hashed out between the brands and the influencers without the social media companies getting involved.

TikTok’s $200 million fund is a different step, something neither Instagram nor YouTube have done. It theoretically would allow more creators to flourish as they start out and begin searching for commercial work, such as the sponsored content posts.

Abram Brown, Forbes Staff, Business

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The Billionaire’s Startup

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The world is awash in streaming services, and Meg Whitman already had her fortune — but then Jeffrey Katzenberg came calling with a mobile-focused startup. With nearly $1.8 billion raised and America on lockdown, consumers may have no choice but to try Quibi.

Minutes after Meg Whitman announced she was stepping down as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in November 2017, her phone rang. It was Jeffrey Katzenberg, whom she has known since they both worked for Disney in the late 1980s and early 1990s — Whitman was in strategic planning; Katzenberg ran the film studio.  ‘What are you doing?’ ” Whitman remembers her friend asking. “I don’t know,” she replied.

“I’m the chairman of Teach for America. I’ll probably do stuff with my husband and travel.” She continues: “He goes, ‘No. What are you doing tonight?’ And I said, ‘Knowing you, Jeffrey, I’m having dinner with you.’ ”

Katzenberg flew to Silicon Valley and, over dinner at Nobu in Palo Alto, pitched his idea for bringing high-caliber entertainment to mobile phones. For Whitman, the idea checked all her boxes: The potential market for the service was huge, prevailing trends were right and it occupied a unique niche.

“I ultimately said, ‘You know what? I think I have another startup in me,’ ” says Whitman, 63, who first got rich (she’s worth $3.3 billion) working with another visionary founder, Pierre Omidyar. She helped build eBay from 30 employees and $4 million in revenue when she joined in 1998 to more than 15,000 employees and $8 billion in revenue when she left a decade later.

“We’re pioneering into a space that only exists because of two things: YouTube, and Steve Jobs and the iPhone,” Katzenberg says. “Those two things have now created a new piece of real estate, and that real estate is 7 in the morning until 7 at night… That’s the thing that’s exciting to me.”

Two years after that dinner, Quibi (an awkward portmanteau of quick and bites) is poised to launch its mobile streaming service offering original movies, reality TV, comedies and news edited into bite sized nuggets of 10 minutes or less, optimized for viewing on phones.

Many in Hollywood think it’s a terrible idea. At a time when viewers are awash in entertainment options, many of them free, who is going to pay for another? “If I’m going to watch Game of Thrones in eight-minute chunks, what’s the difference between what he’s doing and me hitting the pause button?” scoffs one powerful Hollywood insider, who requested anonymity because his clients sell shows to Quibi. Barry Diller, perhaps the greatest Hollywood visionary of his generation, recently called Quibi a “gutsy speculation” for his former protégé (Katzenberg, 69, worked for Diller at Paramount in the ’70s). “He’s so naked out there with this.”

It’s not a new idea. Back in 1999, Katzenberg tried something similar with Pop.com, which was supposed to deliver short animated and live-action films across the internet. With the technology for viable video streaming still in its infancy, it was an uncertain notion at best. Despite being backed by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Paul Allen, Pop.com was dead within a year.

This time around, Katzenberg raised enough money to play it out, including $1 billion in August 2018 from the likes of Alibaba, Disney and Sony. It fortuitously wrapped up a $750 million follow-on round in March, just days before the coronavirus froze the country. “I’ve never seen an environment change this fast,” Whitman says. “Every day is a new day, with new data and new concerns.” Luckily, Kevin Hart and Jennifer Lopez already finished work on their shows, and Spielberg has a movie in the works, attracted by a “cash plus” deal that lets them retain rights to their material. After two years, they can stitch together their “quick bites” and release them as a full-length movie.

Inadvertently, America’s lockdown might have created the perfect moment for Quibi. Nielsen projects media viewing will spike by as much as 60% due to COVID-19. People will certainly know it’s available: Quibi is spending a gargantuan $400 million to promote its new service and in mid-March announced that it will offer the service free for three months.

“This is a moment in time in which we have a chance to do something that is putting some happiness and some joy and some fun and some laughter into people’s hands,” Katzenberg says.

Quibi also has the advantage of being loaded with fresh content just as the production of all new shows and movies has been stilled by the pandemic. Quibi has been stockpiling programming since last September in anticipation of a possible writer’s strike, fearing a replay of 2008, when a union walkout halted new production for 100 days.

The service debuts on April 6 with 50 original shows, including movies offered in cliff-hanger chapters such as the thriller Survive, starring Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) and Corey Hawkins (BlacKkKlansman); 120 reality shows and documentaries; plus news, weather and sports. In all, Quibi promises to deliver 8,500 quick bites from 175 shows in its first year.

But the $1.8 billion question remains: Will anyone pay to watch them? Some Hollywood players are adopting a “DBA Jeffrey” — Don’t Bet Against Jeffrey — attitude.

“Jeffrey has only taken a couple of big swings in his life, and he’s hit it out of the park,” says a senior executive at one of Hollywood’s major talent agencies. “If you had blindly bet on Jeffrey Katzenberg for the past 30 years, you’d have made a lot of money.”

– Dawn Chmielewski

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‘WFH’ here to stay?

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The home will be hub and flexible working the norm. The result? Renewed employee trust, wellness and cost savings, say more companies.

Even the words out-of-the-box seem out of date at a time when shipping containers are turning into ICU hospitals and arms firms are making ventilators and personal protective equipment.

If technology is being repurposed, so too homes and humans.

Over the last few months the world over, the pandemic-induced ‘new normal’ has seen homes turning into head offices, with the volatile economy forcing businesses to rethink long-term strategies in a work from home (WFH) environment that looks here to stay.

Even the big corporates say this could extend post-pandemic.

Barclays CEO Jes Staley said its staff will not revert fully to its pre-January work habits. “There will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy; the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” he said after the company reported its first quarter profits for 2020.

Internet giant Google said all staff are expected to work from home until 2021, according to a May 2020 report in Bloomberg. S,imilarly, Facebook will let staff work remotely through 2020. Twitter, on the other hand, announced a short while later it would let staff work from home “forever”.

Euromonitor International’s Global Consumer Trends 2020 report has highlighted areas that Covid-19 will have an impact for the year ahead. Some of these include multi-functional homes where, in the long-term, the home becomes the hub and businesses will adapt accordingly; private personalization, which will put privacy concerns on hold in the short term but will return in the long term; and inclusivity for all would see disabled communities benefitting from technology.

In South Africa, the government has stipulated five levels of lockdown dictating how businesses may be carried out, including which sectors can operate as levels change. This requires flexibility and being able to adapt from one week to the other.

Jordan Rittenberry, Edelman Africa CEO, says the company’s transition towards more flexible working policies has been sped up by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the process has been a success with renewed trust in employees.

“We believe that flexibility, particularly in the current environment, is a useful way for companies to treat their staff right and foster mutual trust,” he tells FORBES AFRICA. “The pandemic has required a rapid mind-set change as companies take on new responsibilities towards the people that work for them and employee wellness is the first port of call as we navigate these uncharted waters.

“Every crisis presents opportunities and new ways of doing things. The shift we are seeing now is one of those that could help to meaningfully improve employer-employee relationships if managed carefully.

“As more people work from home, we will naturally require less space over time and this will yield cost savings to the business that can be passed on to clients.

“Besides employee costs, real estate is our biggest expense,” he says. Pieter Bensch, Executive Vice President at Sage Middle East and Africa, has come to a similar conclusion. “We realized that we do not need as much office space going forward and working remotely using cloud technology tools has maintained productivity levels from our colleagues,” says Bensch to FORBES AFRICA.

“Our entire workforce began working remotely before lockdown and are in no rush to return until it is safe but have encouraged video calls so they can see each other.

“Our cloud accounting and payroll product sales have increased, which is a clear indication that our customers now understand the power and benefits of cloud solutions to maintain business continuity.”

The mental wellbeing of employees has also been top priority.  “All Sage colleagues received a free subscription to Headspace, a brilliant award-winning app and guide to everyday mindfulness,” adds Bensch. The company also formed a ‘[email protected]’ community for staff looking for peer support on how to adapt with differing family needs and challenges.

A Johannesburg-based agency called BetterWork that specializes in design thinking for human resources has been hosting weekly lunchtime Zoom calls since the beginning of lockdown in South Africa. Attendees include a mix of its professional network, members of The GoodWork Society and other members of the general public. Some of its takeaways have proven that WFH is more productive than working in the office, which cited minimal distractions and the extra hours gained from not having to sit in traffic. Additionally, introverts seem to be thriving and tend to feel more comfortable with contributions to teamwork. On the other hand, BetterWork says parents on the call have expressed being overwhelmed with not just their own work but also the additional responsibility of being teacher-guides to their children.

The company believes the home-office is now the responsibility of the employer where people-focused services such as tele-therapy, support for parents and social programs become an additional duty to ensure a healthy, productive team. It adds that an obvious benefit would be the compensation or subsidizing of laptops, stable internet connectivity, webcams, etc.

Palesa Sibeko, Co-founder of BetterWork, says offices are typically expertly assessed and constructed to suit an organization’s work activity needs, but the same is not true for the millions of homes that are now acting as places of work. “There is not a concerted effort to view home-work life more holistically, to identify the needs and address them to create environments conducive to doing great work.” BetterWork says it is currently looking into how to support organizations on this important mission.

– Nafisa Akabor

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